The People of Brazil Are Fed Up With a Corrupt and Crooked Economy
Brazilian protesters in Porto Alegre.
Photo Credit: Ricardo Araújo/Flickr
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For pedestrians São Paulo became a rare kind of paradise on Monday night. The protest being called the "free pass movement" meant for once in this car mad capital, the walkers had right of way.
There were close to 80,000 of us on the streets of the city. I was there to report but also to protest. I'm about to marry a Brazilian. This place in my future.
The protest met at Largo da Batata and then, marching in four different directions, they slowed the traffic down until there were 250km of tailbacks and the city was tangled up in traffic chaos that lasted till midnight.
Four nights before they'd tried to do the same thing but the police attacked with teargas and rubber bullets. One minute the crowd were chanting "no violence", the next they were firing right at us. We got herded between a fence and a sheer drop on to a motorway. People were crying, from teargas and from terror. Other protesters reached over the fence and pulled us free. It was the kind of citizen heroics you see in a blockbuster, but hope you'll never have to witness in real life.
That was the background. A series of much smaller protests over a 20 centavo increase in the bus fare had been met by ferocious police violence. They deliberately went for the journalists. Firing into the press pack and shooting at photographers on balconies. They ran through the crowds, they raided bars and cafes. They made hundreds of arrests. They sent in the cavalry. Passersby caught up in the madness were shot at. More than a hundred people were injured.
The governor of São Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin, was in Paris the whole time. From there he called the protesters vandals and troublemakers.
So last night, with people enraged by what they'd seen in the media reports, there were protests in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Porto Alegre, Belém, Salvador and Maceió. A quarter of a million Brazilians took to the streets. In Brasilia they climbed on to the roof of parliament. In Rio they set fire to the assembly. But with just a few exceptions every one of the protests passed peacefully.
Some people are calling this a civil war between the people and the politicians. The 20 centavos was the straw that broke the camel's back. A back that's been trembling for some time.
In spite of the economic surge in Brazil the country is still unfair, and horribly corrupt. Politicians earn 28 times the minimum wage. Their expenses, which are reimbursed, can run as high as their salaries. And to put it in context, the minimum wage isn't only for low-skilled Brazilians: teachers too don't earn much more than that either.
The health service, the education system and the police service are all in need of a big fix.
The centre left government, Partido dos Trabalhadores, was voted in on a wave of warmth, idealism and promises to do just that in 2002. But the accusations waved on placards and flags last night showed clearly that for many people the warmth has gone.
"Keep your World Cup – we want education and health", "It's not about 20 centavos – it's about dignity", "The people have woken up".
The stereotype of protest in Brazil is the children of the rich out in the street waving placards as a rite of passage. It's all too easy to sneer at. But what's happening now is very different. There are families in the marches. There are older people too. There are middle-class kids and there are kids from poor communities. They're all singing the same song, "Come to the streets". It works. They come.